We all waste time, but some people and organizations waste time habitually, on their own, while others are forced to waste time because of someone else's mistakes. We tend to notice only the mandatory time wasting that results from the actions of others, but it's useful to catalog all causes of wasted time. That information can be a guide for investigating just how much of what we do could be avoided if we took appropriate measures.
In that spirit, here's Part I of a catalog of ways we waste time.
- The textbook definition of make-work is any activity that serves no purpose other than to keep someone busy. Supervisors do sometimes assign make-work, but I believe that most make-work is self-assigned. That is, we take on tasks that give us a sense of actually doing something, even though the output produced is of no value. For example, we sometimes devote effort to improving something that's already way past good enough. Or we produce something that might be needed later, when a little time spent in reflection could have revealed the remoteness of the chance of its ever being useful.
- Rework is work that was perfectly successful the first time, but which must be done again because the result of our first effort got trashed, lost, or damaged in some way. Maybe the dog ate it. Or we accidentally deleted it. Or we delivered it to the people we were supposed to deliver it to, but they trashed it or lost it or something. Carelessness can be a cause, but often the tools we use are so finicky and badly designed that damaging mistakes happen too often.
- Cleaning up and treatment after spills
- A "spill" is any This catalog of ways we waste time
can be a guide for investigating
just how much of what we do
could be avoided if we took
appropriate measuresincident that creates a need to clean up or repair equipment, facilities, code, or any other factor of production. Spills can also create a need to treat personnel for injuries received. All consequences of spills count as effort. Some of it is very expensive, and little or none of it produces customer value. After-incident reviews are essential to reducing the incidence of spills.
- Leaping before looking
- Rushing into something injudiciously can create spills or a need for rework if the rushing led to incorrect modification of — or damage to — deliverable items that subsequently need to be restored. But a more wasteful consequence of rushing is the need to back out work that shouldn't have been done at all. In that case, the waste consists of (a) doing the wrong work; (b) doing the work required to undo the wrong work; and (c) the meetings and debates that were necessary to convince people that the work shouldn't have been done and now needs to be undone.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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